- Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers
Lives in Science: How Institutions Affect Academic Careers by Joseph Hermanowicz enhances understanding of academic life by looking at the careers of professors in one specific field, physics. Most work on faculty career development (e.g., Austin & Sorcinelli, 1992; Baldwin, 1990; Bland & Berquist, 1997) has focused on the generic academic career, seeking to identify its universal attributes and challenges. Hermanowicz increases the power of his analytical microscope by looking at careers longitudinally in one field and in three different types of institutions. His research builds on the insights of Burton Clark's book, The Academic Life: Small Worlds, Different Worlds (Carnegie Foundation, 1987) which asserted that discipline and institutional context greatly influence how academics define their roles, set priorities, and measure success. Although there is one academic profession, great variation exists within it. Hermanowicz helps us to understand how scientists' careers evolve in one scientific field. In the process, he sensitizes us to the factors that mold and motivate academics in a wide variety of settings.
Hermanowicz developed a longitudinal perspective by interviewing physics professors ten years after an initial foundational study. This enabled him to track both continuity and change in professors' priorities, productivity, and satisfaction. Illuminating the academic career in a particular field over time clearly demonstrates how careers evolve as experience grows and environmental conditions change. Examining the academic career in different institutional contexts weaves an even richer tapestry of academic life. Hermanowicz interviewed professors in "elite, pluralist, and communitarian" institutions. According to the author, elites value research above all else. Pluralist institutions place a premium on research and teaching. Communitarian institutions "place a premium on teaching in the presence of research" (p. 23). Comparing the experiences and points of view of professors in these markedly different "worlds" demonstrates that academic careers are not all created equal, even when the research subjects share a discipline.
This book illustrates how science careers ebb and flow with time and with opportunity. The findings reveal that professors in elite institutions are a privileged class living the idealized academic life while pluralists and communitarians struggle to live up to and eventually shed many of the dreams of research engagement and achievement that they formed in graduate school. The book also shows that many academics in elite institutions live unbalanced lives in [End Page 238] order to succeed. Research remains their first priority through most of their careers, even coming ahead of family life. Perhaps then, it is not surprising the author concluded that the picture of academic life is far from sanguine and the profession may become unattractive to talented young people.
Hermanowicz uses theoretical constructs such as anomie and "cooling out" to explain how the course of academic life leaves communitarian and pluralist faculty feeling better about their careers as they reach retirement than do elite faculty who have been far more productive than their counterparts in other types of institutions, yet can not measure up to "pantheons" of science such as Einstein and Newton. The book gives the reader a sharp picture of science careers in different contexts and also a basis for understanding why science careers evolve in different ways and lead to very different levels of achievement and satisfaction.
Although this book has many strengths, readers should review it with a critical eye. It focuses heavily on the research role. Other important faculty roles seem to be discounted or marginalized. Does this reflect an "R1" bias, diminishing the value of other forms of faculty life and other institutional settings? In addition, although the author conducted careful research, one wonders if he over generalizes his findings. He does not give data to show how common are many of the faculty experiences and attitudes that he describes. For example, he reports "communitarians view their institutions as 'hapless bureaucracies,' designed more to impede than to facilitate work" (p. 175) without providing any hard data to support this bold assertion. Interpretations of this sort are scattered throughout the book.
The style of the...